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Good caretaker sentenced to five years probation

Good caretaker sentenced to five years probation

Wanda Nelson weeps silently in court, apologizes to Good family

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The caretaker found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a Solvang ALS patient has been sentenced to five years probation. 

Judge Rogelio Flores denied a motion by attorney Lori Pedego, who is representing Wanda Nelson in the case, to dismiss the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter and also her motion for a new trial Friday morning in Santa Maria Superior Court.

On Feb. 18, Nelson, 64, was found not guilty of first- and second-degree murder in the death of Heidi Good, who died on March 25, 2013, eight years after she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. Nelson was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. 

Nelson, dressed in a white vest and blue sweater, sat quietly next to Pedego and silently wept while Flores read her probation order.

Nelson and Marjorie Good, Heidi's then- 89-year-old mother, were charged with premeditated, willful deliberate conspiracy to murder Heidi Good. They were tried with separate juries.

Charges against Good were dismissed last week.

Before Nelson's sentencing Friday, Pedego said that her client was entitled to a new trial because Nelson's jury was improperly instructed before deliberations, and that the court failed to tell the jury that there may be more than one cause of Heidi's death.

Pedego added that jurors were given no guidance, and that it was left up to them to determine whether Nelson's absence was a substantial factor in Heidi Good's death, or a trivial factor, compared to the other possible causes which included ventilator malfunction and inattentiveness by Marjorie Good. 

Chief Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser countered that Nelson's jury was not improperly instructed, that "this wasn't a situation of multiple causes of death or the act that caused her death ... it was the individual actions of the defendant that makes Nelson responsible."

Judge Flores ruled that he found no error in jury instructions, and did not find grounds to grant Nelson a new trial.

"When the ventilator stopped functioning the one person in that house who could've intervened was Wanda, not Marjorie," Flores said. "The person we count on to take positive steps to preserve Heidi's life just was not there. That I believe, is negligence."

"I think, had Wanda not left, Heidi may have been likely to still have been alive today," he said.

"This case isn't easy for any of us," said Flores. "I still think about this case every day, and I'm sorry for Heidi and everyone involved. I'd like to have known Heidi — she seemed to be an interesting woman. People have tried to take care of her, but I just don't think we did a good enough job." 

Nelson was given a chance to speak openly in court, which she used to apologize to the Good family and ask the judge to keep her illness in consideration and to "go easy" on her sentence.

"I truly loved Heidi," said Nelson. "If Heidi didn't want me to leave, I would've never gone."

Nelson's probation order is to last five years, during which she cannot leave Santa Barbara County without permission from her probation officer. She is eligible to apply for an interstate compact which would allow her to move back to New York, but only if the probation department in New York grants permission.

Nelson must also stay away from the Nyborg estates, where Heidi Good's family lives, and must pay $16,796.00 in total restitution fees as well as $20,234 to Good's husband, Steven Swiacki.

"This was a complicated case filled with emotion on all sides especially from the victim's family and it will continue to impact them," Gresser said after the sentencing. "Hopefully we will at least find some accountability for Heidi's death, and I want to acknowledge what an excellent job Detective Bosma and Detective Fenske did in the case."

Pedego expressed disappointment with Flores' ruling.

"If the jurors received the instruction properly, Wanda wouldn't have been found guilty of criminal negligence required for involuntary manslaughter. I expected a granting of a new trial motion and a dismissal because it is clear from the start that Wanda is innocent," Pedego said.

Pedego said that an appeal would be filed, and that they will continue to fight until Nelson is fully exonerated. 

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

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